Tuesday, February 12 at 11 AM

Todd Kliman discusses your dining questions and area restaurant news, including tidbits about Mio, a great place for eggs benedict, and an authentic Turkish restaurant in the area.

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Word of Mouth … 

Kyma (69 West St., Annapolis; 410-268-0003), the Annapolis townhouse restaurant designed by Adamstein and Demetriou and with a long roster of meze and tapas making up its menu, was an interesting, likeable spot when it opened, a place that came on like a trendy pretender and flirted with pretension but always had the good sense to temper its worst instincts. The cooking was never superlative but always solid and occasionally delicious, distinguished above all by great shopping — good breads, fresh and fruity olive oils, excellent cheeses.

My five visits over the course of the restaurant's first year had taught me not to expect either the consistency or the casual brilliance of Jaleo and Zaytinya, the benchmarks for tapas and meze in the area. But the flavors were almost always bright and zippy, and I never had a meal there I didn't enjoy.

The founding chef, Jose Picazo (ex-Jaleo) is gone now, replaced by Aaron Williams, and a recent drop-by revealed a kitchen gone south. Part of that has to do with mediocre shopping, and that's a shame; but part of that also has to do with a curious misunderstanding of what tapas and meze are. They're not, for instance, big plates made small. The chef who would try his hand at tapas and meze must be a dazzling miniaturist; instead, in dish after dish, I felt I was eating at the margins of a large canvas. Precision counts; clarity counts. If you're prone to sloppiness, maybe it's better to just stick to a meat-and-two entree.

I could go on with a recounting of the dozen or so dishes my friends and I tried, but it'd only feel like piling it on. Instead, let me just say that we left most of them uneaten, headed back to the car and drove over to Chick and Ruth's Delly (165 Main St., Annapolis; 410-269-6737), where we ended the night with egg salad sandwiches, waffles and ice cream sundaes. Nothing like a nightcap at Chick and Ruth's to restore your sense of equilibrium and happiness. …

… Stefano Frigerio's ambition is considerable; the Mio (1110 Vermont Ave., NW; 202-955-0075) chef, the third in less than a year, wants to show that he's capable of dazzling diners every plate out with intricate arrangements and unexpected combinations of ingredients — to show, in other words, that he's earned the right to run the show. Sometimes, as with a duo of hamachi with a cup of lemon sorbet, he gets cutesy; sometimes, he exhibits a weakness for odd flourishes, like edible flowers in a dish that hardly needs the embellishment. And he'd do well to understand that Mio is not Maestro, that he's no longer tasked with turning out elaborate, prix fixe tasting menus in which each course is judiciously (some might say preciously) portioned. I'm not one to say that size matters, but a plate of venison with only three slices of meat on it? That's an insult.

But I also see flashes of a big-time talent. Swordfish, all but snubbed by high-end chefs these days, not only turns up on his menu, but it turns up rare — when has it ever been left pink in the center? Rounding out the dish: a lightly sweet carrot-lemongrass puree and a few sprigs of fragrant microgreens that neatly play off the saltiness of the fish and the saltiness of the fish's crust. A quiet knockout.

The fried catfish, with a mound of vinegared slaw, would put a Southern roadhouse to shame (such crunch!), while the wine-braised beef cheeks, which are almost as rich and unctuous as the potato puree they're served on, could make a Yankee pot roast jealous. A parmesan soup is remarkable for what it's not: it's not heavy, it's not even cheesy; it's topped off with a parmesan foam that accentuates the lightness of the broth; a handful of elegantly fashioned gnocchi, as light as you could hope for, bob in the liquid. As for that ballotine of foie gras — it's surely one of the most sinful and satisfying things you can find on an area menu at the moment. Forget the edible flowers — forget, even, the sweet corn toasts: instead, focus on the intensity and mouth-coating creaminess of the foie gras, which needs only its modest accent of coarse salt and a quick swipe through its drizzle of huckleberry sauce. …

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Didn't get your question in this week? Submit it early to next week's Kliman Online, Tuesday, February 19 at 11 AM.

Going Abroad
Dear Todd, I'm flying to Europe in a few weeks and am wondering what airline you recommend for the best food?? I'm sick of traveling and eating pre-packaged meals that taste like cardboard. Thanks.

Whew. I mean, even good airline food is still airline food, oversalted and a little mushy all around.

But I like the thought that goes into the meals on British Airways — for instance, serving a chicken curry (curry is always a smart choice for reheating, which is why Indian buffet is more rewarding than other buffets) instead of a chicken breast. That kind of thing.

I also like that they give you wine with every meal, with no upcharge.

British Airways does a great job all around, I think, and not just with food and drink. The musical selections are terrific — Ella Fitzgerald AND Prince — and generally of good quality, there are a lot of choices of movies to pick from, and the staff just seems … I don't know — more civilized than most.

And no, it's not the British accents.

Rockville, MD
I haven't seen any reviews for Oakville Grille and Wine Bar located off Old Georgetown Rd in N.Bethesda. Is it worth going there for a romantic dinner? My finace loves Napa wines, and I am wondering if this place is worth the trip.

I can tell you that the place is cozy and relaxed, and that, yes, the wines do gravitate to Napa.

Worth a trip? Depends on just how important good food is to you. For some, I suspect, the pretty plates, the good service, the California-centric wine list, and a nice setting will probably be enough.

Fairfax, Virginia
I want to take my friends to a nice restaurant for my 21st birthday, but we're all poor college students. Could you recommend a place where we could go just to get desert? Thanks!

There's lots of places to pick from, Fairfax: Central, Cafe du Parc, Poste, Ceiba. The list is long. All of the aforementioned are festive, pulsing spots, and the desserts won't set you back too badly.

Enjoy yourselves, and check back in with us to let us know which you picked … 

Now, can I gripe for a second? Poor? Most college students aren't poor. I used to hear that a lot when I was in college, and I hear it now, too. Poverty? Really? Lacking any chance of upward mobility, lacking all prospects — that gets a lot closer to the meaning of poor.)

Washington DC
I have frequently eaten at Couscous Cafe near the corner of 20th and M. It provides a unique alternative to the eateries in the area. The food (mostly north african and middle eastern) is based only on fresh ingredients, it is cooked with care, and served with a smile usually by the owner (Aziz), his sister or his mother. The characteristic dish is couscous, a dish based on semolina which is served with stewed vegetables and/or meats (chicken or lamb) or salmon. It distinguishes itself from the few other places in DC serving couscous because the semolina base has a powdery consistency. I asked Aziz and he told me the couscous is rolled by hand at his place, a labor-intensive process but with striking results – it is like the difference between home- made pasta and pasta bought already made! Another dish that i liked was Bastilla, a pie made of pulled roasted chicken, almonds, spices, and peanuts wrapped in a fillo dough, baked and sprinkled with ice sugar and cinnamon: DELICIOUS! It is worth the visit and the money! Considering the freshness of ingredients and the time and labor that go into the preparation of most dishes, I was amazed that the prizes are below $10! Go and see it yourself! we must support eateries like this if we want to send a message to the chain eateries of downtown that serve the same, boring, de-frosted soups and entrees!

I enjoy the place, too.

And I agree with you, DC — I think it's wonderful to see such a reasonably priced spot in the heart of downtown serving real, homecooked food. Very unusual. And very deserving of our support.

Though the place I pine for, as loyal readers of this chat know, is the recently shuttered Pyramid. THAT'S a bistilla to moon over.

Falls Church, VA
I love writing about the restaurants I visit. Is there a venue for writing restaurant reviews in a perhaps a "beginners," low- maintenance, setting?

Yeah, there is. Right here.

I keep telling you all: I love it when you come back each week with reports from the field, I think it energizes this chat — I know it energizes me. 

This forum can and should be about more than just me weighing in on the spots I like each and every week, more than a vehicle for people to come on and complain about service. I mean, you're all out and about and eating — so, come on, tell us: where you've been, what's been good, what's not been good, what surprised you, what disappointed you, etc., etc.

Nothing I'd like more than coming across a report that's got some balance and some interesting observations about the food, the atmosphere, the mission of a place, etc. 

Crystal City, VA
Hey Todd, my friend is coming in from San Francisco and he's a total foodie. We had reservations at Minibar but had to cancel since he had to change the dates of his trip. Where else can I take him that will "razzle-dazzle" as much as minibar would have?

Easy: Citronelle or CityZen. Take your pick.

Although I've gotta say: Neither is quite as dinner-as-theater, as food as food porn, as Minibar. 

Oh, well. Next time.

And meanwhile, I'd be curious what your total foodie friend — and you too, of course — think of Citronelle or CityZen.

Takoma Park
Todd, I work locally for a wine company and we are releasing wine in the coming weeks. Do you ever do interviews with wine makers for your column?

Yep.

Best, probably, to contact me via email: tkliman@washingtonian.com 

Fairfax, VA
Where, outside of DC proper, can I find a really fantastic eggs benedict made the old fashion way (Canadian Bacon and good holandaise). Preferably close to Fairfax but I'll drive anywhere outside of DC in the Virginia area. If you want to respond directly to my email, that would be fine. Smoore@cstm.com

Give the Eggs Benedict at Vermilion, in Old Town, a try.

I'm not a brunch man, as I said in my review of the place several months back, but I have a real soft spot for this one. I think Tony Chittum's doing a damn fine job over there.

Washington, DC
Todd: Just wanted to say that Tony Conte at the Oval Room is doing some great work. I know the restaurant did well in your Top 100 issue, but for some reason he's not often named among the city's best chefs, and he should be. Perhaps it's because people think "old" and "stuffy" when they hear the name of the restaurant. Anyway, I just wanted to put a plug in for a chef who's really at the top of his game.

Did well? I'd say — it landed in the Top 20!

I agree with you, of course. Couldn't agree more. I think it's, right now, the most underappreciated restaurant in the city.

Washington DC
Judging from the nearly full dining room at Mio last week during lunch, word must be out that the previously disappointing restaurant is finally on the right path with new chef Stefano Frigerio, formerly Maestro’s sous-chef. I’ve been twice in the last two weeks; each time the starters (squash fritters that tasted more like a particularly delicate gnocchi), duck prosciutto, pan-fried prawns with garlic and capers, and seared scallop with quinoa risotto and spicy vanilla sauce) have been terrific. My dining companion and I found the grilled skate at least as good as West End’s and the short ribs better than Central’s. The only disappointment was the grilled swordfish in a carrot-lemongrass puree with spicy molasses sauce, which was unexpectedly bland and a tad undercooked. The restaurant is offering a three-course lunch special for $22.50, but we found the desserts to be mediocre at best (the restaurant is well aware of this and is apparently looking for a pastry chef). Service could be speedier and more attentive, but that may be a short-term problem as the restaurant becomes accustomed to more activity at lunchtime, and is compensated for by the friendly and gracious presence of Frigerio, visible from the dining room’s open kitchen, and managing partner Manual Iguina, who roams the dining room helping wherever needed – both are visibly delighted with the turn in the restaurant’s fortunes. I’m looking forward to watching this restaurant continue to improve as Frigerio settles in and makes it his own.

See? Now we're talking — detailed, balanced, thorough and informative.

Although you're wrong, wrong, wrong about the swordfish. : )

Thanks for the report, DC. If you're willing to take the time to organize your thoughts and post something as well-written and interesting as this — and that goes for all of you out there in chatland, too — then I'll gladly post them each and every week in this space.

Happy to. Thrilled to. 

Poor college students
For students receiving significant financial aid, many schools formulate their packages to put the students just above the poverty line. How many students at GW or Georgetown are receiving significant financial aid? That's another story, but the restaurants you recommended are not really accessible to anyone who is less than comfortable.

Absolutely. But they're not going to dinner; they're going for dessert. 

The chatter wanted a "nice" restaurant, I gave them some nice restaurants.

Germantown, MD
Hi Todd! My husband is taking me to L'auberge Chez Francois for my birthday. That sort of French Country food always makes me happy! Is there anything you would recommend as a "must try"?

Easy. The choucroute!

And happy birthday, Germantown! I'm with you: nothing, really, like good French country cooking to put you in a good mood.

Don’t travel too often, but
this past week was at Miami Beach where we tried Emeril's. I have to say it was really fabulous! The food was great, the service was great- they even presented us with a free glass of champagne as I mentioned it was our anniversary when I made the reservation. Do you know of plans for an Emeril's in DC?

As a matter of fact, DTTOB, I was just talking with a source yesterday who confirmed that, yes, Emeril will be coming to DC to open a place, joining the now-legion of celebrity chefs (Laurent Tourondel, Wolfgang Puck, Eric Ripert,  Gordon Ramsay) pouring into the area.

The restaurant, I am told, will be located in Foggy Bottom, and will be called "Bam!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

(Sorry. Couldn't resist.) 

Vienna, Va
Hi Todd, Where can I find an authentic turkish restaurant in the area? My husband and I are going to Turkey this summer, and wanted to start experiencing the cuisine. The only restaurant that comes to mind is Nizams, but it's a little stuffy for our taste. We are in our late late 20s. All other restaurants claim to be turkish, but are really mediterranean (ie, Zaytinya). Oh, and if any chatters on the board have restaurant recommendations for Turkey itself, that would be great! We'll be in Istanbul and Antalya. Thanks!!

Give Cafe Divan, in Georgetown, a try.

It's a much more mod setting, and the food is Turkish, not merely (generically) Mediterranean. (By the way, Zaytinya doesn't claim to be serving Turkish food. Or Lebanese food. Or Greek food. What it's serving, really, are those flavors, which it interprets its own way.)

Look for the excellent lentil soup, the sigara borek (crispy fried pastry "cigars" filled with parsley and sharp feta), and the iskender kebab, which takes the doner kebab (spit-roasted lamb and veal) and layers it with tomatoes, toasted pita and yogurt.

 

Washington, DC
My boyfriend really likes single malt scotch, and for his birthday I'd love to take him somewhere in DC with a great variety. Do you have any suggestions for bars or restaurants that could cater to his single malt interests?

If memory serves — and sometimes it doesn't serve; sometimes it neglects, sometimes it completely ignores — I'd try either PS 7's or BLT Steak.

Both have, not just good, well-stocked bars, but also knowledgeable bartenders, which I think is just as mportant if you're looking to taste and explore.

Arlington, VA
I have been offered to be treated to a milestone birthday dinner next month, pretty much anywhere in the area. I think my generous friend would like to go somewhere for a tasting menu. (The Inn at Little Washington will have to wait for a bigger milestone.) I missed out on the Inn at Easton; however, I have enjoyed Komi, Minibar, and Restaurant Eve. Are there other places I should strongly consider? Thank you!

I'm going to sound predictable and unimaginative, perhaps, for coming back to the names Citronelle and CityZen, but they really are worth it, and especially given your interest in fine dining. 

The other place to add to your list is Palena, which, while not quite at the level of those two, is deeply rewarding, one of the best restaurants in the region. 

Washington, DC
A friend had a craving for perogies the other night, so we headed to W Domku. We had never been there before, but I had heard about it favorably through the internet tubes. The menu promised exactly what we were looking for on a cold, blustery evening; sausages, stews, perogies. We were genuinely excited. Unfortuantely, that feeling didn't last. We ordered some pea soup and the borscht and the herring three ways for appetizers. The pea soup was too thick, oversalted and the borscht had a texture unlike any I've ever seen, my friend describing it as a "tepid, pureed, red mash". The herring, on the other hand, were very good. Served simply with good sauces (especially the mustard), traditional accompaniments and a nice crispy rye cracker. For our entrees, I had the keilbasa with sauerkraut. The sausage itself was fine, could have used a bit more smokiness for my taste. The suaerkraut was horrible. Sauerkraut should taste like more than stewed cabbage. It needs a kick. This had almost none of that sour bite you want and the carrot didn't help either. My friend's mushroom/sauerkraut perogies were also not helped by this bland filling. The only flavoring seemed to be copious amounts of salt. The dough was gluey and heavy, perhaps needing a light sautee after boiling. The best thing that we could say was that the Baltica #9 is very tasty beer. As for the rest, we'll keep on searching for good eastern european food. Any ideas on where we should look the next time the mood hits?

I've had generally good experiences at Domku, so I'm surprised to read this. What you describe doesn't sound, exactly, like an off night. But it also doesn't describe the food I've had here. Hm.

As for other spots for Eastern European food in the city? Well, I don't know what I can tell you. Actually, that's not true. I do know what I can tell you: There aren't any.

DC's just not a city of white ethnicities, of Poles and Italians and Irish, the way a lot of East Coast cities are.

But, on the bright side: Baltimore's not too far a drive.

Maestro
Is Gordon Ramsey going to be in charge of the kitchen?

In charge of the kitchen? Yes.

Actually, in the kitchen? No.

field report
Okay here's one for you- my family and many others like us love Rio Grande Cafe! Years ago, this place used to make your best bargain restaurants list every year, and I really think it deserves to back. I mean, okay, it's not exciting, "sourced" cuisine or anything, but their fajitas are great, the margaritas pretty darn good, and their chips and salsa one of the best around, I think. It's always packed with families who may not be foodies but have a lot of money to spend at local restaurants and make up a large part of your magazine's readership. We find ourselves going back time and again for the dependable food, fast, friendly services, and family friendly atmosphere.

Hey, I like the place, too.

You're right: it's dependable and fast and friendly. There are a lot of places like that, places I like and go to again and again that don't make any of our big package issues. Doesn't mean they're not good. 

I happen to think that, for the purposes of compiling our list, there are other restaurants out there that are bigger bargains, that are more interesting and delicious and more rewarding up and down the line.

But as I said, I think Rio Grande does a good job. 

Anyway, enough typing; time to resume eating. That's all for this week, folks — I'm off to lunch.

Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week at 11 …

 

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